State environmental regulators will require owners of a uranium mine near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to apply for more stringent water protection permit that will likely allow additional oversight. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has mandated Energy Fuels Resources seek an individual aquifer protection permit. It’ll consolidate other permits and data and focus on a storage pond used for groundwater that in recent years has flooded the mineshaft. Officials say heightened regulation of the facility will likely be part of the framework and they’re acting out of an abundance of caution.
The director of the Water Quality Division at ADEQ Trevor Baggiore says the agency was in part responding to public comments in requesting the permit.
"We can custom tailor how frequently they have to monitor, how frequently they have to report to us. Oversight from an inspections perspective would be the same. We can inspect and do inspect on a regular basis," he says.
Energy Fuels spokesperson Curtis Moore says the company is hopeful the permit will show that the Canyon Mine is highly regulated and isn’t a threat to public health or the environment.
But the Havasupai Tribe for years has urged ADEQ to close the mine. Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy, Sr. says it could threaten their sole water source, and even a stricter permit still allows the mine to operate.
"Our traditional use land is being contaminated and the R-Aquifer, which feeds Havasu Creek and provides life to our people in the canyon is at risk," he says. "Why take that risk? Once the R-Aquifer is contaminated, Havasu Creek is contaminated and our life in the canyon will then be contaminated."
Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust say the Canyon Mine is a grave threat to groundwater and springs in and near the Grand Canyon.
After a review, public meetings and a comment period, ADEQ officials say the individual aquifer protection permit could be issued by early next year.
The Canyon Mine is the only operational uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park though it has not yet begun producing ore as prices remain low. The Obama administration in 2012 banned new uranium mining claims on a million acres adjacent to the park for 20 years.